By HARRY CLARKE
IN Australia the mounted sport of polo has come a long way since the early days.
Its remarkable progress will be on full display this Sunday at the Larapinta Equestrian centre, where the Queensland Polo Association will host the 2021 Ailier Australian Open finals.
From roughly twenty teams competing in national finals this weekend, six teams will play for the coveted A-grade Jim McGinley Memorial Trophy, named after the late Australian polo champion.
Ticketing details can be found on the Larapinta Equestrian website.
Polo in 2021 is a far cry from its roots in the bush in decades gone by, says long time Australian captain Glen Gilmore, who grew up on a family cropping and grazing property near Allora on the Darling Downs.
This weekend’s gala Australian Open event was launched from the popping green lawns of Rivermakers, Brisbane’s stunning new riverside development at Morningside.
Two resplendently dressed players on horseback stood for photographs beside a VIP charter helicopter and Rolls Royce vehicles bearing the plates “Ghost” and “Cullinan”.
Renowned fashionistas sipped margaritas while they watched models wearing their designs pose with immaculately groomed geldings.
“In the beginning, polo was just mates playing against each other,” Gilmore (pictured) said.
“Farmers who had their horses in to move cattle around would play against their mates down the road.”
Now the sport offers something to everyone. Players who spent their youth helping Dad muster the cattle are now sharing the polo field with literal royals.
Indeed, Gilmore himself has swung mallets with the Windsors and Mountbattens of the world on countless occasions.
Wealthy horse lovers who own entire polo teams are often socialising with the grooms they employ to muck out the stables.
“Polo is probably the only sport in the world, aside from maybe yachting, where you can own the team and participate as well,” Gilmore says.
“When Nathan Tinkler owned the Newcastle Knights, there’s no way that he was going to go out and have a game against the Brisbane Broncos.”
But polo is structured so that amateur players can saddle up beside professionals. A clever handicapping system means that “hired assassin” experts play on the same team as those who are still relatively new to the game.
This weekend promises to showcase all of the thrilling, fast equine action that polo has to offer, amid the fun and frivolous social setting for which the sport is renowned.
“It should be a fantastic day of polo,” Gilmore said.
“It’s got that exclusivity but it’s also got that great Aussie battler element, where people from the bush who own a few horses just come and play because they love the camaraderie and the teamwork.